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Last week, 888 Poker announced that they are changing their reward program and doing away with rakeback on their site. The new 888 Poker Club will rather reward players based on achievements and moving up levels rather than on how much rake they generate.

The move away from a rakeback rewards model was not surprising after seeing the recent changes made by PokerStars. 888 Poker’s shift is a bit different than that of PokerStars and the program is one that will be familiar and popular among recreational player. However, this focus towards the recreational player will ultimately bring about the death of the rakeback grinder.

Shifting from Rake Based to Achievement Based Rewards

888 Poker is changing their rewards program from a rakeback model to one that is based on achievements. In the past, players earned points that went towards a monthly rakeback. As they moved up in tiers, they earned higher rakeback.

Under the new program, players still earn points but also work towards completing various tasks and challenges. Once they earn a set number of points, they move up to the next level and earn a pre-set number of Gold Tokens. These tokens can then be used to redeem rewards.

Sound familiar? It should because it is a similar method used by many social media games for years. You complete achievements and stages and earn coins. Once you complete a set number of stages you move on to the next board or level.

Why Did 888 Poker Make This Shift?

Once it became clear that PokerStars would not be reversing changes to their VIP program under any circumstances, it was just a matter of time before other sites followed suit. As has been the case for over a decade, PokerStars does something new and everyone else has to follow.

There’s already talk of TonyBet making changes to their rakeback structure and we expect that by the end of the year we will see numerous sites change or announce changes to their rewards program.

New Program Will Be Popular Among Recreationals Because of Familiarity

Recreational players, which I will refer to as recreationals, will enjoy this new program from 888 Poker because it is a scheme that they have seen used on every social media game from Candy Crush to Bubble Witch Saga and beyond.

Most recreationals aren’t really all that concerned about rakeback. Putting in long hours just to get back 10, 20 or 30% of rake doesn’t appeal to these players. However, you put a set of achievements in front of them and they can start figuring out how long it is going to take to earn that $50 tournament ticket or purchase that 888 Hoodie they have their eye on.

Also, recreationals will be able to earn rewards at all levels and this will prompt them to play more. One downside with many loyalty programs has been the lack of benefits to low tier players. This will help close that gap.

Death of the Rakeback Grinder

2016 may well go down as the year that the rakeback grinder died. With sites now focusing on recreationals versus high-volume players, the opportunity to make a profit with rakeback will steadily shrink. By the end of 2016, only the smaller sites and networks may offer any form of rakeback to players but the volume on these sites will not be enough to satisfy those looking to take advantage.

For those unfamiliar with the term “rakeback grinder,” that is a person that uses rakeback earned on a site to supplement his monthly win online. For some players, it is the difference between a losing month and breaking even. Other players only “win” at online poker because of their rakeback. It is not uncommon for high volume players to get $25,000, $50,000 or more in a year from rakeback.

In a way, I believe that 888 Poker is making a bit of a mistake with focusing exclusively on recreationals. A few weeks ago, I argued that PokerStars should consider some type of a reduced rewards system for high-volume players but not eliminate the majority of their rewards. Of course, by the time we were arguing these points it was too late.

With 888 Poker, my thought is that they should reconsider completely scrapping their rakeback model but consider making it an option for the higher volume players on the site. Players clearly will have to choose between the rakeback model and the achievements based model, but keeping the rakeback model could help retain high volume customers and maybe steal some away from other sites that choose to cater almost exclusively to recreationals.

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James Guill

James Guill began his poker career in 2006, spending two years traveling the US tournament circuit. Since 2008, he has covered the game extensively for some of the biggest names in the industry. When not writing about the latest poker news, he can be found hunting for antique treasures in Central Virginia.